Hells Canyon Wilderness

Choosing a Solar Panel for Backpacking

THE AMERICAN BACKPACKER

When it comes to choosing a solar panel for backpacking there are a variety of choices to choose from. There are many top name brand solar panels in the market.  I have used Goal Zero, Sun Tactics and Anker.  If you are going to be in the wilderness for an extended period of time, (more than 2 days) a solar panel is an important piece of gear to have with you.  If you are just going for an overnight trip bringing a battery pack by itself  will probably be sufficient to charge your gear.

Solar panels are used to charge your electronic gear.  You can charge your gear directly or you can choose to charge a separate lithium battery pack.  I find that charging a battery pack using a solar panel is the most efficient way to keep your electronic gear charged and operational.   

So which solar panel is the right one for you?  I will discuss (5) features you should look for when choosing the right solar panel for your wilderness adventures.

Features to have in a Solar Panel


Lightweight and Portable

Solar panels are either rigid or semi-rigid.  Semi-rigid solar panels allow you to roll them or fold them up. Semi-rigid panels that fold up allow them to be more compact and lightweight.  They can be easily packed, strapped to your backpack, or attached to your tent.  The flexibility of a semi-rigid solar panel allows it to be set up in different configurations. Foldable solar panels are fairly durable and provide better protection for its panels when they are being transported.

Solar Panel
Solar Panel attached to my Backpack


Solar Panels
Anker and Goal Zero Foldable Solar Panel


Connection Points

Make sure that you get a solar panel that has connection points on its outer edges.  These connection points can be a grommet or a rope loop.  Having these connection points allows you to strap it to various things such as your backpack or tent.  These connection points also allow you to secure a solar panel in other configurations.

Power

Solar panels come in a variety of power outputs that are rated in watts.  A watt is how much power a solar panel can produce in full sunlight.  The higher the solar panels wattage the more powerful it is, (i.e. a 24 watt solar panel is more powerful then a 15 watt solar panel).  The next thing to look at is how many amps will a solar panel produce.  The larger the amps the more it will put out especially for electronic equipment requiring high flow rates.   I recommend having at least a 15 watt solar panel with a minimum of a 2.0 amp output.  These specifications allow you to power most of your gear to include a lithium battery pack if you choose to charge your gear that way.

USB Ports

When you look at a solar panel make sure that you have at least (2) USB ports on it .  Having 2 USB ports allow you to charge multiple devices which can save you down time over those having only 1 USB port.  

Weatherproof 

There are very few solar panels that you can actual submerse in water.  I am very cautious about manufactures advertising that a their solar panel is 100 percent waterproof because their definition varies from the actual IP rating, (International Protection Rating).  IP ratings set the standard of protection for electronic equipment from solids, (such as dust, and accidental contact) and water entering electrical enclosures.  I recommend having a solar panel rated at a minimum IPX4 level (Protects from splashing water no matter the direction).  The highest level is IPX7 which means that is is submersiable in water.

I have found that the IPX4 rating for a solar panel has worked well for me. Even if you have a panel that is 100 percent waterproof it does not mean that the electronic equipment you have attached to it is waterproof.  If I need to cross a stream or if heavy rains are coming I will properly protect my electronic gear that is not IPX7 rated. 

Conclusion

Selecting a solar panel does not have to be difficult or expensive.  There are many solar panels that have the above features priced between $40 to $80 dollars.  Paying anymore than $80.00 dollars does not necessarily get you a better solar panel.  I highly recommend that when you have chosen the solar panel right for you that you test it out in your backyard before heading into a wilderness area.